A Year in Reviews

Having had our gaming habits somewhat disrupted by the unexpectedly early arrival of a baby, it felt like a good moment for a bit of a retrospective.

I’ve been doing game reviews now for a little over a year now. In that time, I’ve saved myself money on some games I wanted to get anyway, breathed life into games that had been standing idle and, above all, tried a lot of games that I would never have come close to playing without doing the reviews. Today I want to look at some of the highlights.

 

Bigger and Better: Zombicide: Black Plague

(see original review here)

Zombicide PaintedZombicide was one of the earlier games I got to review, and it was undoubtedly the game which made the biggest impact on last year – it was also my pick for “2016 Game of the Year” in the video. It’s a miniatures game, where a small band of heroes take on ever-growing armies of zombies, simple to learn, and not that difficult to master, I love how accessible this game is, and just how much fun it is. The game is scenario-based, so there’s a fair amount of variety, and the ongoing search for better weapons drives a lot of what happens. The zombies power up as your survivors do – specifically spawning in numbers determined by the most powerful survivor at that point in time, which means that you need to be careful of one person getting too far ahead of the group.

paintotaurWith a £70+ price-tag on the base game, coming from a publisher and designers I didn’t really know, this is something I would never have picked up having not played the franchise before. Having got it, it’s been such a hit that various birthdays and Christmas presents have gone on expansions. At the time of writing, it’s hovering on the brink of hitting 100 plays in under a year, which is pretty good going for a game that typically lasts more than 90 minutes, and regularly hits 2-3 hours or even more.

Cracking game, great fun, and it even inspired me to get back into miniature-painting to an extent that I hadn’t in a good while. Great stuff.

 

Gaming for the Future: Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition

(see original review here)

all-investigatorsAfter Zombicide, Mansions of Madness was the second most-played new game last year, but I’m including it on this list for a couple of other reasons. I’ve already waxed lyrical about this game here, and here (amongst other places), but there’s something specific I wanted to draw out today. This game completely changed my mind on the use of apps in Board Games. I use randomisers for set-up in Legendary and Dominion, but otherwise, I’ve always been pretty luke-warm on the concept. Things like X-COM, with a stress-inducing real-time element aren’t really my cup of tea, and I could never see the benefit: Boggle works fine with an egg-timer, with needing to digitise everything.

mansions-madness-board-game-puzzleMansions changed all of that – it gave us access to a great game that we’d always steered away from due to the 1-versus-many aspect, and it allows masses of replayability in a way that just wouldn’t be possible with physical components. The puzzles are probably the biggest aspect of this, but the whole experience is very well done – I never feel like it isn’t worth having the bits out, or that I could just be playing on the app, but the app streamlines the play so much. Eldritch Horror is another game we picked up last year, very similar in a lot of ways, but it does have a lot of bookkeeping to do (and I often miss bits), so having the app to keep track of these things just makes life so much easier. Lastly, the element of the unknown that it provides is great – the fact that you can roll a check without knowing how well you have to do to succeed gives you all the openness and surprise of an RPG, without someone actually having to take on the role of GM.

Mansions has really whet my appetite for more of these all-vs-app games. I strongly considered getting Descent, and only decided against it on the basis of time, but if the rumoured app for Imperial Assault finally appears, then I’ll be taking a very interested look at it (hopefully they’ll publish a second edition of the box, and someone will be needed to write a review…)

 

Disturbing the Dust: Elder Sign

(see original review here)

ElderElder Sign is a game we’d owned for ages, but hadn’t been played that much. In fact, in 2015, it didn’t get played at all, and I wouldn’t be overly surprised if the same was true of 2014. It was one of a small handful of Cthulhu-mythos games that had been bought in, but had never really taken off.

Elder sign was already on my radar as part of last year’s “unplayed” project, but it definitely helped when I saw an expansion sitting on the up-for-review list – the Alaskan-themed “Omens of Ice” box.

Omens-of-Ice-Original-Box-Card-GameI didn’t put in for it straight away, but made a point of playing a few games first, to make sure I actually had some recent context for reviewing the expansion. Then I got the expansion to review, and played it some more. And more.

Fast-forward to 2017, and Elder Sign is our most-played game of the year so far. Part of that is due to some skewed circumstance, along with catching up on expansions for Christmas, but this is definitely a game that Reviewing breathed fresh life into – Dominion also benefited last summer with the excellent Empires expansion, but this felt like the clearest example of a game brought back from extinction.

 

And now for something completely different: AYA

(see original review here)

AYA-Box-Board-GameWriting Board Game reviews can be a great opportunity to pick up games or expansions that I would be buying anyway. It also offers a chance to try something completely different.

There a few games which fit the “different” header better than AYA: a cooperative domino standing game where you work together, against the clock, to construct landscapes of dominoes in matching patterns, then attempt to knock them over with a single flick, leaving a unique pattern of animal and landscape photographs.

AYA-SetUp-Board-GameAYA is a fun little game – certainly not of the things we play most regularly, but interesting enough for a change. Without a doubt though, this is not a game I would have found and bought in a shop: it’s simply way too far off of my radar, too far removed from the sorts of things I normally play. When it comes to spending money, one of the main reasons I get so many expansions for board games, is that I feel like I have a better idea what I’m getting, a sense that I’ll be enhancing something I already know I enjoy, rather than taking a chance on something new. I still try to target games which I think might go down well at home for reviewing – it’s hard to write a review on a game no-one will play! – but overall, reviewing offers a great opportunity to push the boundaries slightly, to experiment with the new.

 

The People’s Favourite: Star Wars Carcassonne

(see original review here)

Star-Wars-Carcassonne-Game-Board-GameI feel like it wouldn’t be fair to finish this article without pausing for a moment to mention Star Wars Carcassonne, or Starcassonne as I like to call it. This takes the well-known tile-laying game, and mashes it together with the Star Wars franchise – it’s an interesting twist on the original game, with dice-based combat and planetary invasion making for a slightly more direct, if also more luck-based experience than the original Carcassonne.

The Star Wars theme is pretty thin- really this is “space” Carcassonne to a far greater extent than it is Star Wars in any meaningful sense, but that doesn’t seem to hurt its popularity – this was by far the most read of all the articles I did for them last year, and it continues to attract attention into 2017.

 

Looking forward

There have definitely been a few reviews in the last month or so that have run into baby-related reviews, and when time is at a premium, you don’t want to be unable to play your favourite game because you’ve promised to review something strange, new and not-all-that-appealing. That said, I’m optimistic that Review work will still have a place in a parenthood world, and I look forward to telling you all about them in due course.

Arkham Horror LCG – Single Core Set Review

Utter Madness

Warning: This article contains some minor spoilers in image form

arkham-lcg-contentsArkham Horror the Card Game is the latest release from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) in their popular Arkham Horror Files range. It is a Living Card Game, meaning that the Core set released last week is just the first in a long line of products planned for the game, but before we go ahead and take out a subscription for everything yet to come, let’s take a look at what we get for starters.

Your Investigator

wendy-token
It would be nice to use miniatures for all the characters, sadly there’s not much crossover yet between this game and Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition

First of all, the basics. In Arkham LCG, you control a character represented by a mini-card that you move around to track your location, a larger card showing your stats and powers, and a deck of 30ish cards that you draw from during the game in order to assist you in the various tasks and challenges that you undertake.

Your character has stats for their Willpower, Intelligence, Strength and Agility. They also have a health value and a sanity value. At various points throughout the game, you will be required to perform checks using these stats: to do so, you take your stat, add any modifiers for assets or other game effects in play. You then draw a random token from the “Chaos Bag” which will modify your total (usually downwards). Finally compare this total to the difficulty of the check: if your result is equal or higher, you have passed the test and can reap the reward.

Each investigator performs three actions per turn. Ideally you will want to use these for gathering clues, but you will also need to move, deal with enemies, and invest in acquiring tools for the tasks that await you, by drawing cards, gaining resources, or playing assets.

The Scenario

The pace of Arkham is driven by two decks: the Agenda deck and the Act deck. The Agenda deck is the game trying to execute its dark plan, and the Act is you trying to solve the mystery or stop things first. Although each deck is a separate pile of cards, they are designed to sit side-by-side, so that they give the impression of a single book.

act-agenda-book

study Each scenario sets up with a series of locations. These are double-sided: a blank side, and a more detailed side that is revealed once the players enter the location. It costs an action to move between locations, and there are coloured symbols at the bottom of each location showing you where it connects to. Once revealed, most locations will have a certain number of clues (often scaled based on the number of investigators in the game), and a “Shroud” value, indicating how difficult it is to discover clues at that location. To investigate, you perform an intelligence check against the shroud value, and if you are successful, you take one of the clues from the location. Typically, you will need to acquire a certain number of clues in order to advance the Act, although sometimes there will be other conditions like defeating a particular enemy.

Each round, after the players have had their actions, all enemies engaged with them will attack, then everything refreshes, each player draws a card and a resource, and a new round begins with the Mythos Phase. The Mythos Phase is when the dark forces which oppose you do their work. First of all, a Doom token is placed on the Agenda deck, which may cause the Agenda to advance, then each player reveals a card from the encounter deck – either an enemy or a treachery.

Ending

resign The end of an Arkham LCG scenario is more complex than a simple win/lose check. You may have the option to resign and even if you do not, there are likely to be 2 or 3 different possible outcomes, creating knock-on implications for later scenarios in the campaign. This variable outcome structure adds to the replayability of the game, but it also lends weight to the designers’ assertion that the game is best played in campaign mode rather than just cherry-picking individual scenarios.

At the end of a scenario, assuming that you are not dead, various things will happen: you will be told to log certain pieces of pertinent information, and may gain cards or benefits, or suffer trauma that will affect you in future games.

survivor-upgrades You will also be given experience points (XP) based on cards you have defeated or objectives completed, and these can be spent on upgrading your deck. At the start of a campaign, all the cards in your deck will be “Level 0” but you can replace them with more powerful cards as the campaign goes on: the “Level” of a card (0-5) is the same as its cost in XP (although it always costs 1XP to swap a card, even if the new card is a level 0 as well).

When you finally reach the end of the campaign, you will be given an ultimate resolution – typically either a hollow victory that leaves you permanently scarred in mind or body (this is Lovecraft, after all) or outright death and destruction. The detailed consequences of the “positive” outcome are there for the particularly masochistic individuals who want to take their already-harrowed investigators onto a further campaign without starting anew.

First Thoughts

signatures
Roland and Daisy’s Unique Cards

Overall, I think that Arkham Horror LCG is a good game. It feels like the designers have learnt a lot from 5 years of experience with Lord of the Rings, along with ideas borrowed from elsewhere. Having smaller deck sizes increases the chance of you seeing a given card, whilst the 2-copies-per-deck limit for cards (as opposed to 3x for most other LCGs) keeps deck-building interesting. Signature cards are also a nice touch: these have had fairly haphazard implementation in other games, so having each investigator always start with 1 unique asset and 1 unique weakness in their deck levels the playing field and allows the character’s narrative to truly influence their gameplay.

magali-tokens The aesthetic of Arkham Horror is good: the iconography on the locations take a little getting used to, but is actually quite intuitive. The investigator art is particularly high-standard, with many of the characters depicted by Magali Villeneuve, everyone’s favourite artist from LotR.

The components generally are high standard too – including the trademark hearts and brains common to most of FFG’s Arkham games. It’s a little sad that they didn’t include an actual bag for drawing chaos tokens, but it’s easy enough to find a substitute.

Places

rooms-away
Roland will need to spend an action to go from Cellar to Hallway, and another from Hallway to Attic, before he even thinks about fighting that Ghoul.

The separation of locations from the Encounter deck allows the designers to convey a really good sense of place: you are always at a location – if you’re two rooms away from another investigator and they need help, expect it to take time for you to get to them. Making the locations double-sided, and having more copies of some locations than you use in each game allows them to retain an element of mystery of what you will find when you go there.

Having an encounter deck of 2 card-types from the outset (rather than 3 in LotR) reduces some of the variability in terms of what the encounter-deck throws at you, and thereby improves the overall sense of balance. LotR has had lots of location issues over the years, and having this approach from day 1 feels like a smart move.

Play it Again, Sam

dunwich I’m planning on writing a lot about this game over the coming weeks and months – I certainly want to take an in-depth look at the question of just how much replay value there is within a given campaign, but I think that will work better as a full-spoilers piece.

For now I’m just going to say that whilst you can play through the same campaign repeatedly, once you’ve done it a few times, and seen all the different resolutions, the narrative surprise is going to be significantly reduced: decisions which you take first time round from a purely narrative standpoint may become non-decisions once you know exactly what the gameplay outcome will be.

Obviously the nature of an LCG is that FFG expect people to buy into the game in a long-term fashion, and the replay value will grow with time: once we have the full Dunwich Legacy campaign, and the option of taking a detour to deal with a Rougarou, the scenarios should feel a lot more varied, and hopefully it will be easier to stay in character as you play.

Nothing to Build.

guardians
Roland & Skids – both want the Guardian cards, but there aren’t enough to go round

The Core set comes with 5 investigators, and allows you build legal decks for them – but only in certain combinations. For each character, you will be using all of the level 0 cards from both their primary and secondary classes at the outset, meaning that they cannot investigate alongside any character who shares one of those classes. In practice, each Investigator has to choose one of two others in order to start their investigation.

Once you have chosen your pair of investigators, the decks largely build themselves: take all of the level 0 cards from both classes, and top up with level 0 neutral cards. There is some scope for customisation here, but again the options are limited – by the time you’ve given everyone a couple of knives, a couple of flashlights and a couple of emergency caches, you’re only really picking skill cards to round out the numbers.

agnes-shrivelling There are a number of ways round this, of course – with a second Core Set you can combine any pair of investigators (or play with 3 or 4 players). If you stick to the suggested pairings, a second Core gives you actual decisions to make about which cards to include. Aside from allowing you to play around with deck construction, a second Core makes some characters a lot more viable. Take Agnes for example – her base combat stat is a fairly weak 2, but her willpower is 5, making her a much more viable combatant once she has an attack spell out. Sadly, with only 1 copy of shrivelling in a core box, and only 4 uses possible, she’s going to really struggle until you can bulk out her card pool.

cold
This encounter set is used in both the first and second scenarios – a second Core saves you a few seconds having to fish them out when moving from one to the other.

Even without the second core set, the card pool will grow over time, and players who don’t want to acquire the dead cards from a second core will see their options grow over time. (there is some labour-saving between scenarios to be had from a second set of encounter cards, but those duplicate acts, agendas, and unique cards are basically dead cardboard).

I think there’s a good argument for hanging fire until we’re seen what the Dunwich Legacy will offer us in terms of player-cards, (I think it’s due out before Christmas, so not long to wait) before deciding on a second Core set. Deck-building is going to be another area I look at more in the future, so I won’t go into any more detail here.

Overall thoughts

I think that Arkham Horror LCG is going to be a good game. We had fun playing it, even though our initial run-through of the campaign ended in death and destruction (and that was on easy mode). As an LCG Core Set, I think this offers a good starting point, and shows that the designers have crafted some solid mechanics, which offer a lot of potential for the future.

That said, as a stand-alone product, this feels very limited: the restrictions on deck-building mean that you are pushed strongly towards the lower-end of the difficulty level and for our purposes hard/nightmare might as well not exist. We played it 7 times over the first weekend we had it, and will probably play another half dozen or so times, but once I’ve taken all the characters through the initial campaign and done a mix of solo and 2-player (well, completed it 2-player, and gotten fed up with dying in solo), I’m not sure how much life is going to be left in it.

TLDR: A good start for an LCG. Very limited as a 1-and-done.

Zombicide Black Plague: Zombie Bosses Expansion Review

What’s that coming over the hill?

bossboxPreviously here on Fistful of Meeples, I’ve reviewed some additional assistance for the Survivors in Black Plague, through the extra Vault Weapons available via NPC box 1. Now it’s time to even things up by offering reinforcements for the forces of darkness through the Zombie Bosses box. This expansion comes with 3 new unique Abominations, and the cards and tokens needed to use them in a game of Zombicide: Black Plague.

Abominations: The Basics

Abominations are the largest and the toughest of the Zombies in the base game – whereas Walkers and Runners can be killed with any weapon, and Fatties need something that does 2 Damage, Abominations are damage 3 monsters: In the base game, there are no 3-damage weapons, meaning you have 2 possibilities.

  • Get Sampson, wielding a hammer (or some other 2-damage weapon) up to the Red Level where he can choose the “Melee: +1 Damage” skill.
  • Discard a “Dragon Bile” Equipment card and a “Torch” equipment card in the Abomination’s space, to start Dragon Fire.

The first retail expansion for Zombicide: Wulfsburg brought new options. The Vampire Crossbow, a weapon that any Survivor above Blue level can wield is a 3-damage weapon, and kills Abominations straight out. There are also various weapons (Chaos Longbow, Flaming Great-Sword, Dragon-Fire Blade) which make it easier to start a Dragon Fire, and the Earthquake Hammer, a 2-damage Weapon which goes up to 3 damage on a roll of 6.

In return for these extra ways to kill Abominations, Wulfsburg gave you the Wolfbomination. Like a normal abomination, but 3 times as fast.

Now, “Wave 2” has hit. Between the Kickstarter content (much of it available via eBay etc if you weren’t a backer), and the gradual release of retail expansions, there are now any number of ways to get to 3 damage, via character abilities, and new weapons.

That’s where the Zombie Bosses come in: with all these ways to kill their champions, the Zombies need more bosses, and more powerful ones at that. Let’s see what this box has to offer.

 

Unboxing

bosscontentsWhen you open the box, the first thing you see is the 3 Miniatures for the new bosses. Miniatures is a word I use loosely. The Ablobination is only about the height of a normal Abomination (although it does have a very long arm), but the Abominatroll and the Abominatour are both massive, towering over even the Wolfbomination.

My first impressions on the miniatures were fairly mixed: on the one hand, they are clearly good quality figures, the detail is good, the construction looks solid (it’s disappointing, but completely understandable that the Abominatroll needs a support pin), and there was slightly less in the way of excess casting/misalignment than on most of the other packs I’ve bought.

troll-blobThat said, neither the Abominatroll, nor the Ablobination particularly caught my imagination figure-wise. Abominations are supposed to be the results of crazed experiments on the part of evil Necromancers to create bigger and nastier foes, and that was something you could see easily in the standard Abomination and the Wolfbomination. Here by contrast, we’re lacking a frame of reference for what a ‘normal’ troll looks like before you abominate it, and the Ablobination is just plain weird.

minotaurNone of that particularly bothered me, because I think the third miniature in the box is just brilliant.

Whilst we don’t have a non-abomination version of a Minotaur, I think it’s an easy enough concept to imagine, that it’s easy to see what a great job they’ve done with the Abominatour. Where the Ablobination is just sort of sitting there, and the Abominatroll is lunging so wildly he needs propping up, the Abominatour is a perfect combination of a solid pose that still oozes dynamic energy. A definite winner for me.

 

Gameplay

Obviously, in a miniatures game like this, the sculpts are important, but as nice as the components may look, we wouldn’t still be getting bits for it the gameplay wasn’t fun, and the Zombie Bosses need to earn their keep in this regard too.

Abominatour

blackbook
We’re in!

As with the miniatures, so with the gameplay: the Abominatour was the one I was most excited to play. Unlike every other Zombie in the game, which needs to carefully navigate a path around buildings and through doors, the Abominatour works out where the noisiest square is, and he just goes there – destroying any walls which stand in his way (and meaning that any other zombie can now follow in his wake). The expansion comes with little cardboard tokens to mark the destruction he has wrought.

In practice, having an Abominatour on hand certainly changes the gameplay, sometimes dramatically. The fact that he can open up (and spawn) locked buildings, or smash through walls into places that would otherwise be inaccessible without specific objectives can really turn things on their heads. The most extreme example feels like it would be Welcome to Wulfsburg – where an Abominatour who spawns at the top of the map could change things very quickly (and make for a really short quest). We’ve also managed to break in to the central complex in The Black Book Without finding the required objective by using the Minotaur.

 

Troll and Blob

XuxaThe other two bosses definitely felt more like they were just more-powerful versions of the abomination: the troll gets extra activations if he can see you which makes him in to essentially a Wolfbomination will a little bit more strategy involved, whilst the Ablobination can only be destroyed with Dragon-Fire, taking you back to the core-box only days without 3-damage weapons.

The dragon-fire only restriction is particularly relevant if you’re bringing in lots of powerful survivors – In a game with Xuxa, an Abomination is just another big zombie (once she has Quicksilver Sword and +1 to dice roll combat, it’s pretty hard for her to miss), and pegging things back to a point where you need dragon fire felt like a good counterbalance.

 

Overall Thoughts

I’m definitely glad I bought this box. I’m not generally one of these people who find games “too easy” and if you chuck in all 12 spawn cards for the monsters in this box, you could quickly find yourself in trouble (we did that once. We died horribly). Used in moderation though, they have great potential to add variety to the game, and they do allow you to use some of the extra content which benefits survivors, without losing all the tension from the game.

A few months ago, I backed Cool Mini Or Not’s latest big Kickstarter project, Massive Darkness, including a Zombicide Crossover kit which includes card to use various monsters, including these 3 in the new game. I’m sure they’ll have plenty to keep them busy over the intervening 9 or so months, but it’s nice to know that there are fresh victims out there waiting to be eaten…

Painting

I’m slowly painting all my Zombicide figures. A lot of the Walkers and almost all of the Wolves are still awaiting the technicolour treatment, but something as spectacular as these guys went straight to the front of the queue.

bosseswipThat said, they were a challenge. For one thing, I’d never painted anything as big as the Abominataur or the Abominatroll (not with any level of detail, I seem to recall there was an Airfix Lancaster bomber 20 years ago…) beyond that, the colour scheme isn’t immediately obvious. There are images of all 3 of these in the rulesheet, but it’s hard to tell where to draw the line between “natural” colours and the thoroughly outlandish.

paintedIn the end I decided to keep the flesh on the Blob and the Minotaur fairly ‘natural’ – these are sufficiently weirdly shaped that there’s no need to make them lime green or shocking pink to convey their otherness. For the troll a selection of greyish green (based German Fieldgray, highlighted with “Grey Green”) seemed more fitting. I used a brighter metallic colour than normal to pick out the armour on the Minotaur, just because there’s so much otherwise uninterrupted flesh, and used a thin wash of red over all the bits that look like boils/swellings, as well as a few green tints, just to add an unhealthy look.

paintotaur

Overall, I’m fairly pleased with how these turned out. As always, the flagstone effect on the bases really seems to set the miniatures off. I’m under no illusion that these are a particularly high standard, and they’re certainly not about to win any painting awards (I lack the patience/skill for the many-layered highlighting and blending) but they look great for our games, and overall these Zombie bosses are a fun addition to an already brilliant game.

This means (Civil) War

CivilWar As I mentioned a few weeks back, August saw the latest expansion for Marvel Legendary: Civil War. This is a big-box expansion, on a par size-wise with Dark City or Secret Wars (volume 1 or 2). As you’d expect, it offers a whole load of new content for the game, including new Schemes, Masterminds, Heroes, Villains, keywords, and mechanisms.

If you’re not familiar with Legendary already, you should check out my Game Summary, or the review I did for the base game.

A time of turmoil

The Civil War box for Legendary refers to the original comic-book crossover event from 10 years ago, when Nitro accidentally blew up a bus full of schoolchildren, leading to a wave of public concern about powered individuals running around without accountability or oversight. This demand ultimately led to the Superhero registration act. Whilst Tony Stark championed the public identification and state regulation of superheroes, Captain America demanded continued independence and anonymity, leading to a bitter conflict which ended with a public brawl in the middle of New York City. This comic-book arc, rather than the recent Marvel film, or the current “Civil War II” event, seems to be what the guys at Upper Deck have focused their attentions on.

Teams

zemo In the Civil War set for Dice Masters that was released a few months ago, the Thunderbolts and the New Warriors both played a significant role, the Thunderbolts in particular were an interesting departure for that game, as they were the first mixed Villain/non-villain team we had seen.

Legendary keeps things rather simpler. The Thunderbolts, along with Registration Enforcers, CSA Marshalls, and even the Great Lakes Enforcers appears as villain groups, but the playable heroes are far less creative. We have Marvel Knights like a new Daredevil, and one half of Cloak and Dagger. We also get the Young Avengers (Hulkling, Patriot, Stature, Wiccan), but they fall under the “Avengers” affiliation rather than being a new team. There are other Avengers: Captain America (Again!) Falcon, Goliath, Hercules, Tigra, Vision, as well as a few miscellaneous others like Speedball (New Warriors) and Peter Parker (Spider Friends).

speedball In terms of team affiliations, this set feels a bit underwhelming. This far into the game’s life, Avengers are such a well-developed theme that you have to feel there would have been potential to take things in a slightly different direction. That said, we would probably all have got annoyed if we were left with “Young Avengers” characters that had no discernible synergy with their elder companions, so this was probably the “safe” option long-term (so long as the upcoming Deadpool expansion is suitably crazy). There is a certain amount of logic in having Speedball as the only New Warrior after the bus explosion, but they could have given us a version of Firestar or Nova with that team.

 

Divided

lukejess Division and faction are obviously big themes in Civil War, and it was only natural that the game would want to capture something of this. The principal way in which this has been done, is through “Divided” cards.

A divided card is 2 cards in one – when it’s in your hand it counts as 2 different cards then, when you play it, you choose one side or the other, and are only considered to have “played” that one. Some divided cards simply represent another aspect of the character, whilst others will actually contain a different character entirely – for example, Luke Cage’s divided card features Jessica Jones on the other side, and Peter Parker’s features Aunt May.

cloakdaggerDivided cards are a nice idea – thematically it makes a lot of sense, it means that the cards you buy are more flexible, being able to be tailored to different situations, and often introduces a lot more decision-making when you actually get to your turn (often one card will offer the stats you want, but the other will have the class or affiliation you need to trigger an ability). The main problem for me, is how it appears visually – you have to play Divided cards sideways and, because the overall piece of cardboard is only the same size a standard card, that means that the half you play will only be 50% of the size. It just makes everything feel a bit squashed, and looks slightly odd.

Some Heroes are pairs, rather than individual – Cloak & Dagger both feature on all 4 cards in their set, as do Storm & Black Panther on theirs. Obviously, there’s plenty of logic tying these pairs together, but even here, things fall apart somewhat, with the Rare card being a “both-together” card, which inexplicably carries only 1 affiliation and 1 class.

The fact that every hero released in this set has at least one divided card, also leads to some slightly strange combinations – when it’s two versions of a single character, that’s easy enough to follow, but when it’s someone else it gets hard to keep track: I’m sure there is a reason why Hercules finds himself sharing a card with Amadeus Cho, but it was lost on me.

 

Character choices

goliathrag
I can see this ending badly…

Some characters make a lot of sense in Civil War. It was inevitable that we would see Cap and Iron Man. Goliath and Ragnarok play big roles, and having Peter Parker exposed as the identity of Spider-Man is right on the money.

That said, there were still things I wasn’t a massive fan of. There are only so many Hero versions of Captain America that we need (there are currently as many ways to play Steve Rogers as there are to play the entirety of X-Force), and it would have made a lot more sense to me if we’d had a Cap Mastermind/Commander, and/or Iron Man as a hero. Also, whilst it was inevitable, given the ongoing nonsense over rights and royalties, the lack of a new Reed Richards or Sue Storm felt very out-of-place for a set claiming to be based on the original Civil War comics.

hawkeye Other choices I wasn’t a fan of based on personal taste. The fact that Patriot gets the full 14-card treatment, whilst Kate Bishop (or Lady Hawkguy as I like to think of her) is confined to a cameo appearance on Patriot’s divided card, was a bit of a let-down for me. It doesn’t really do justice to someone who I think is a much more interesting character, AND it suggests we’re less likely to get a full version of her any time soon.

 

Keywords

Civil War also features various new Keywords appearing on cards: Fortify, Size-Changing and SHIELD clearance.

unbreakable I think it’s almost inevitable this far in to the game’s life that new keyword affects can get a bit janky, and Civil War is definitely no exception to this.

A nice idea, but awkwardly implemented, is “fortify” – this allows cards to occupy strange spaces on the board (it might be a city square, but it can also be a deck, a card pile, etc), making villains harder to fight, heroes harder to recruit, cards harder to draw, or wounds less likely to be acquired. The main problem, is the throwaway explanation they get in the rules, which strongly implies that only a villain will ever be fortifying a space, and leaves lots of gaps in the concept to be filled in. How do you show that this space is fortified? How can it be “un-fortified”? Thematically, I could see where some of these were going (like the Luke Cage who fortifies the wound stack, so prevents people from taking damage), but overall, it felt hit-and-miss.

thomas-ant
It’s a surprise really that Cassie Lang isn’t more traumatised by her upbringing…

Size-Changing is a keyword which reflects the ability of some characters to grow or shrink. As such, it allows you to recruit people like Stature or Goliath for a reduced cost, if you’ve already played a card of a certain type this turn, or to fight some villains more easily with the same conditions. This one just felt a bit flat and underwhelming. Occasionally it made it slightly easier to buy/defeat a card, or had some slightly altered impact for things based on printed cost/fight, but mostly it didn’t seem like it was doing much.

SHIELD Clearance is simply a requirement to discard a SHIELD hero as an additional cost of fighting that villain. There’s certainly some merit to this – it makes those starter heroes slightly less useless, and gives you something to think about when purging your deck of cards (you don’t want to reach a point where you’ve none left, and can’t fight the Villains / Mastermind), but in practice it mostly just felt frustrating.

 

Extras

wounds Aside from the standard Heroes/Villains/Schemes, Civil War does a lot of tinkering, rather than a whole lot of brand new things. You won’t find a completely new pile here, like when Sidekicks or Ambitions were implemented, but you will find additions to existing piles: the wound stack now has a selection of Grievous Wounds shuffled in – Wounds which have an additional condition to being healed. Likewise, the Sidekick stack has a big group of Animal sidekicks added.

Grievous wounds aren’t supposed to be nice, and there’s a definite sense of frustration when you get one. That said, I’m not sure they really impacted gameplay that much for us: they can still be KO-ed by card effects, and it’s only if you skip the recruit and fight part of your turn to use the “Healing” action that it really becomes relevant.

pets
Lockjaw also clearly the wrong affiliation – not that we have an “Inhuman” team- yet…

The animal sidekicks seem like a fun idea. Unlike normal sidekicks, they have a Class and a Team affiliation, so they can be useful for triggering abilities. However, the random selection that you get makes it hard to deck-build with any consistency, and the affiliation is only useful if you have Avengers (it’s a definite disadvantage if you’re collecting X-Men [or Spider-Friends, Guardians etc] in the Avengers vs X-Men Scheme. The “Benefits” of class and affiliation are offset by generally having reduced powers – only drawing a single card, or rescuing a bystander, rather than that reliable card draw. We played with these a fair few times, but found them more frustrating than helpful, and have now gone back to normal Sidekicks.

As an aside: Lockheed being an Avenger annoyed me, and I would have much preferred if he’d had the X-Men affiliation. This generally served to rub in the fact that we still don’t have a non-parallel-universe Kitty Pryde (I’d take a Guardians affiliation, if we can’t have another X-Men version).

Final Thoughts

Overall, Civil War was a bit of a mixed bag from my perspective. It gave me fresh inspiration to get Legendary off of the shelf (I have played it a lot in the past couple of weeks), and provided some interesting new elements, but overall, it felt a bit underwhelming.

For the most part, I don’t think this expansion is bad: there are various bits and pieces I’ll continue to use, even if others (Animal sidekicks etc) will probably be staying in the box for a while, it’s just not as exciting as others. Still a must-buy for the completist, but if you’re new to Legendary, I’d recommend getting most, if not all of the other available content first.

Review: Game of Thrones LCG – Called to Arms

Another chapter pack is upon us, and it’s time for a card-review

Kings

They may not be the first cards you see when you open the pack, but surely the most game-changing cards from this pack will be the two new agendas: Kings of Summer and Kings of Winter. However, I think they are deserving of an article of their own, so I’m going to leave these for now.

 

Baratheon

StoneDrumBaratheon get a new character and a new location this pack. Maester Pylos is a 3-cost, 3-strength, Power character, with Stealth. It’s hard to get excited about a character so mundane, and Cressen is still Baratheon’s best bet for a Maester, but this does give you other options if you’re running Here To Serve, or if you’re relying on kneel to win unopposed challenges. Feels solid if uninspiring.

The Stone Drum is a bit more intriguing. As a non-limited zero-cost location, it certainly doesn’t ask much of you, but you’ll need to be running a fair number of “Kingdom” plots to actually get a meaningful gold boost out of this. Given how many other locations Baratheon already has, this feels like it will struggle for deck-space, but it’s definitely a card worth thinking about when you consider how many Kingdom plots there are which you’re likely to already be running, some of which (Summons, Building Orders, Counting Coppers) have challengingly low income

 

Greyjoy

As you might expect during the war of the five kings, Greyjoy get a new version of their king, Balon. The new Balon is more expensive than his core-set counterpart at 7, with the same strength and icons. He has a little extra flexibility, being able to participate in multiple challenges (provided your opponent doesn’t control a king) and being able to convert locations into a multi-character strength boost, but for me this can’t compete with his core set version who does such a great job of smashing through those unopposed challenges.

Ours is the Old Way” is a whopping 4-cost event that gives all your Greyjoy characters stealth, or takes stealth away from all non-Greyjoys. Stealth is good, but 4-cost in Greyjoy just seems way too steep.

 

Lannister

Shae Shae is a 3-cost, 2-strength Intrigue/Power character for Lannister, who can be re-stood for the cost of 1 gold. Obviously she’s in the right house to have the gold to spend, but she just feels a bit week to be of much use to me. She seems most likely to find a place in a deck that’s relying on pushing through multiple intrigue challenges, and will have knelt out enough of your opponent’s board to not worry about the character’s strength. That said, she is small enough to be vulnerable to burn and to First Snow.

The Boy King is a unique attachment that captures the sadistic pleasure of Joffrey as he preys on the weak. Until we see Valar Morghulis later in this cycle, keeping power on characters is still a lot easier than it was in first edition, and being able to profit from the demise of claim-soak (your own or your opponents) feels like a good deal for 1-cost. The attachment also bestows the “King” trait, which seems to be an advantage in this cycle (unless your opponent has Viserys!)

 

Martell

Starfall Cavalry are a remarkably expensive character at 6-cost, and they provide a decent-sized body, without being anything that’s going to transform the game. They continue Martell’s theme of wanting to play the long game as, from turn 4 onwards, you can draw 3 cards when you play them. Whilst they feel too expensive to run many of, the power of the draw effect (particularly given how ineffectual Doran tends to be) is probably enough to make you include 1.

Venomous Blade is another Martell card with a big ambush option. I’m still cooking up an article on Ambush, and will deal with this more there.

 

Night’s Watch

Edd We’ve seen a rise in negative attachments in recent times, and the Night’s Watch one definitely plays to their strengths. If you’re running a wall defence deck, you want to avoid letting challenges through, and a 1-cost attachment that stops someone from attacking seems like a good deal. Their new attachment, Craven, is both terminal and a condition, so it’s fairly vulnerable as attachments go, but such a cheap way to neutralise someone like Balon or Robert make it worth a look.

Dolorous Edd has come to second edition, and he’s not happy about it. As you’d expect from a steward, he has an intrigue icon, and you can also ambush him in as a defender, for the cost of kneeling your house-card. Once again, this is stopping those unopposed challenges from getting through (as he can’t be stealthed in your hand), the cost is reasonable, and you have the option to return him to hand after winning the challenge, to save you from board resets.

 

Stark

A character and an event for Stark this time round: Donella Hornwood costs 4 for 3 strength, Intrigue and Power icons, which is acceptable, but hardly exciting. Her value lies in reducing the cost of the first loyal card you marshal each round: if you’re running a lot of loyal cards, especially in a fealty deck, she could give you some fairly powerful resource acceleration over time, and definitely seems worth a look. Without that critical mass of loyal cards, she seems a bit bland to bother with.

One such loyal card you might consider is Fear Cuts Deeper Than Swords. A 2-cost loyal event that cancels the effects of an ability that chooses a Stark character as its only target, and stands the character instead.

From what I’ve been able to glean from the Internet, this card is only going to help you out when an opponent triggers a card that says “Choose a character” and they choose one of your Starks. This means that it works on Mirri, Put to the Sword, Raiding Longship etc, but it doesn’t work on Tears of Lys or Tyene. Stark do have options for Intrigue these days, but it’s still not an area of great strength for them, so that’s a big drawback. The stand is nice, but I think I still prefer Treachery.

 

Targaryen

Doreah This cycle is all about Kings, and so far Viserys Targaryen is the only character we’ve seen who makes you want to not control a King. On that basis, their new attachment, Beggar King seems like a useful bit of resource manipulation: it won’t turn around a lack of economy altogether, and it’ll take at least a round to pay for itself, but the promise of having 1 or 2 extra gold when an opponent reveals a plot with better income will definitely help to smooth out bumps, as well as giving one of your characters the “King” trait.

Doreah offers Targaryen players some additional card-draw, gaining insight in challenges where you control a participating Lord or Lady. Like almost all draw we’ve seen up until now, she is loyal, and as a 2-cost, 2-strength bicon, she isn’t going to be setting the board alight, but she is cheap enough to include 1 or 2, and can combo well with characters like Viserys or Illyrio.

 

Tyrell

I found the Tyrell cards in the last pack quite underwhelming, and There Is My Claim doesn’t feel like much of an improvement. Obviously a free event is nice, but the requirement to reveal 4 Tyrell characters from your hand seems a pretty steep one, and just not that likely to trigger. As it’s free, you might want to chuck this in – unexpectedly changing the claim of a challenge is always a bonus, but it just feels too niche to rely on.

The Knight of Summer on the other hand, is quite an interesting proposition. At 4-cost, he comes the right side of the First Snow of Winter cut-off that hit the old Tyrell Knights deck so hard. As a body he’s decent without being exciting, but if you can get the “Summer” theme rolling, then a 5-strength bicon with renown seems nice. I think this might even be the inspiration I need to build a Tyrell Summer deck.

 

Neutral

As you’d expect given the pack’s agendas, Called to Arms comes with a new summer plot, and a new winter plot.

Harvest Summer Harvest is certainly not the most exciting plot, but with income of X, where X is another player’s plot income + 2, most of the time it’s going to allow you to play plenty of stuff. Value definitely goes up in multiplayer, and it would be a real flop on a Rise of the Kraken or Valar Morghulis turn, but if you’re building for summer, it seems an obvious choice.

Winter Festival sticks with the more established theme of a season plot that hinges on there not being any plots in play of the opposing season. If you can fulfil that requirement, this offers plenty of gold, and two free power at the end of the round. Dangerous in melee, the rest of the time it’s probably a meta-call, and only worth it if you can leverage that Winter keyword.

 

So that about wraps things up for another chapter pack. Most of the cards in here seem interesting without being earth-shattering. I definitely think that the big long-term impact from this box will be the Agendas, and I’ll post more thoughts on these once I’ve had a chance to see them in action.

Review: Game of Thrones LCG – Across the Seven Kingdoms

It’s been a while since I did a proper chapter-pack review, but with the launch of a new cycle of chapter packs, I decided it was time to get my act together, and start taking a proper look at things again.

As before, I’m going to offer a general overview of the cards in each pack, although some will be given a fair amount of detail if they catch my interest, whereas others may get skimmed over if they rely heavily on a theme I’ll be dealing with elsewhere.

Baratheon

Baratheon gets two new cards in this pack, a character and an attachment.

Ruby or Rhllor Ruby of R’hllor, not surprisingly, ties into the R’hllor module aspect of Baratheon – it’s pricy – at 3-cost for a unique attachment, and requires you to win an intrigue challenge as the attacker, but the effect has potential to be very powerful, allowing you to discard a particular card from an opponent’s hand.

In “Seen in Flames,” Baratheon already has unparalleled ability to view an opponent’s hand and this allows them to press that advantage. It’s also a R’hllor card, which means that it will trigger Melisandre’s kneel ability. The fact that it doesn’t require you to exhaust means that this can be triggered multiple times per round, so it could be especially nasty in a deck that makes multiple intrigue challenges – Lannister Banner of the Stag seems an obvious fit, and one that will be able to afford the start-up cost.

Ultimately, most of the time, triggering this card is going to require guess-work, but even if you do nothing more than name the card you’re most worried about all game, if feels like it could be handy. The timing is restrictive (no window to trigger it between draw and marshalling), but it will penalise factions who are relying a lot on challenge-phase draw.

The second Baratheon card is the White Raven, which ties in to the Power challenge / dominance style of play for Baratheon. It’s an interesting-looking card, but for me, the costs (mustn’t lose a power challenge, need to win dominance AND have a season plot revealed) are too steep for a 2-cost, 1-strength mono-con.

 

Greyjoy

Captains DaughterGreyjoy start out with the Captain’s Daughter, and I’ll say straight-out that I really can’t see the appeal of this card – it’s a 4-cost, 2 strength character, with just a power icon, and the ally trait (Ally hate may not become a thing in 2nd edition, but I certainly can’t see this becoming a positive trait to have). Her ability to bounce a character back to the top of an opponent’s deck is interesting, but feels too limited to be worth the cost.

Obviously, there are some very powerful non-loyal characters out there, and by my count, 20 of them cost 5 or more (which feels like the minimum you need to be hitting to make it worthwhile sacrificing a 4-cost character AND kneeling your house-card). The trouble is, they’ll be back again next turn, and a lot of the characters you’d really want to hit with this come from factions like Lannister who can easily afford to bring them back next turn.

The only place I can see running this card is in a mill-deck that’s got a high-likelihood of being able to discard that character before they can be re-drawn and played (Heads on Spikes would also be a good option). Bonus points if you do it with The Mountain, and move them to dead pile. Sadly, my recent attempt to create a Greyjoy/Lion mill deck convinced me that this isn’t a viable deck-type yet. (although since writing the first draft of this, I got thoroughly dismantled by a Greyjoy/Dragon mill deck, so maybe I should reconsider).

Greyjoy also get a location, Pyke, which can be knelt to give a character stealth. Obviously, Greyjoy like stealth for their unopposed challenges, but there’s already a lot of competition for Location space in Greyjoy, and I think that you’re better off sticking with the Warships – Great Kraken gives Balon stealth, and preventing defending characters from counting their strength is potentially better than stealthing them, as it means the character is still knelt-out. I can’t imagine running this any time soon.

 

Lannister

It’s always been the way: the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. This pack is no exception, offering Lannister, through Levies at the Rock, a way to steal gold off of opponents who attack them.

This is obviously a good ability: it makes it harder for your opponent to play tricks/trigger events from the challenge, it strengthens Tywin if he’s in play, and swings the dominance balance in your favour. That said, I think Lannister has so many other good cards that a bit of marginal income manipulation during the challenge phase isn’t going to be worth including this.

Janos Rather more interesting for Lannister in this pack, is their new character, Janos Slynt. He is (ironically) loyal, and at 5-cost for 2 strength, he doesn’t look that amazing. However, the combination of Intimidate, and a non-restricted action (i.e. trigger it as many times as you like) to pay 1 gold to give him +2 strength until the end of the phase allows Lannister to leverage some of their stacks of gold to beat down opposing characters. This looks like a very good option to me: so long as you have a bit of gold, your opponent is forced to either over-commit when defending, or find their characters knelt out unhelpfully. The variable strength boost can also be used to get through a Put to the Sword or similar. Lannister do have a lot of high-cost characters already, but they also have draw and income, so I think it’s worth finding room for this guy.

 

Martell

Martell get a character and a location in this pack. The character, Harmen Uller, is a 6-cost, 4-strength Martell Lord (so he benefits from Doran’s ability) who also has renown. At that cost, you certainly can’t afford his value as a body, but I think the real reason you’ll be running him is for his ability – he gives all of your “Sandsnake” characters Ambush. I’m going to do something on ambush elsewhere, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but for a Sandsnake Deck this looks like a fairly obvious card.

Tower of the Sun is a rather less flashy option. A 2-cost loyal location that gives you gold when an event is played (limit 1 per phase). The longer the game runs, the better the value here, and Martell likes to play the long game. This can also help pay for those ambushing Sandsnakes, so worth a look.

 

Night’s Watch

White TreeArry” is a new character for the Night’s Watch. You can’t control him at the same time as controlling Arya Stark, but people coped alright with Cat of the Canals in 1st edition, so this is hardly the biggest issue. This is another high-cost ambush character, but the main thing that leaps out is the ability to return Arry to hand to draw a card. More draw is always good, and the fact that this isn’t limited by phase is nice. On the other hand though, Night’s Watch have the Raven, which is just so much more cost-efficient. Worth chucking one in perhaps, but not something to be relied on.

I was never a fan of choke in first edition – it stopped me from doing what I was trying to do, but often didn’t manage to do anything interesting itself, just led to long, dull games. That said, this one really intrigues me. It costs 3, which is significant, given the number of high-cost locations Night’s Watch is already running (you still want Castle Black and The Wall ahead of this, I think), and it will take a few rounds to pay for itself, but the ability to squeeze your opponent’s income round after round, whilst simultaneously boosting your own feels really useful, and could hurt houses like Greyjoy or Stark, who were probably struggling for income anyway.

 

Stark

Robb Across the Seven Kingdoms takes 2nd Edition in to the War of the Five Kings, and we get our first new king here, the King in the North, Robb Stark (I’d have liked it thematically, if he only gained the King trait whilst you controlled a “North” location, but that could have got really fiddly (especially if he also starts benefitting from Riverland locations…)

Robb has the ability to remove a problem character from a military challenge, provided that character isn’t a King. Up until now, that would only have been Robert, but Kings will be coming thick and fast in the coming months. As an aside, I really like the art here, it seems to really capture the flavour of a man weighed down by the responsibilities of rule (and fed-up enough to abandon diplomacy for a night of passion somewhere…)

The fact that he’s a renown character contributing 6+ strength in a military challenge is obviously nice, but for a 7-coster, this Robb just doesn’t feel that powerful – even the character you remove can just kneel again for the next challenge. Maybe there’s something to be engineered with Put to the Sword, and undefended shenanigans, but I’d rather keep the “re-stand everybody” version from the Core Set, and spend my 7 Gold on his mum or dad.

Riverrun, as you might expect is a Tully location,, and it allows you to speed up power-gain for Tully characters. The most obvious synergy is with The Blackfish, to get him to his magic 3 power, but this can also be used for cost-reduction via the House Tully Septon, or just to push you closer to 15. This only increases power, it doesn’t gain it from nowhere, but there are enough ways within Stark to get power on your characters that this looks worth including.

 

Targaryen

Shierak Qiya Kings, clearly, are like buses – you wait a whole cycle for one, then two come along at once. Viserys Targaryen has a better claim than most, and only another King is going to see off his challenge. For 2-cost, a character who forces your opponent to waste some of their best characters on defence seems like a good trick, and he represents very cheap power-gain if they don’t have a king. Sadly the fact that you want to keep him in play means he’s less use as claim-soak than his core companion, but at 2-cost, I think he can be forgiven. The biggest frustration for me is that he’s only 1-strength, which means he dies immediately to the loyal plot that gives all non-dragons -1 strength.

Shierak Qiya (what the Dothraki are calling the Red Comet that is moving across the sky) offers the ability to re-stand a character after winning a power challenge by 5. Targ has plenty of big-bomb characters, who you’d like to use twice: Dany, Mirri, Drogo, etc, and wining power-challenges by 5 is the sort of thing a Targ deck should already be doing, so this card with a gold cost of 0 is really appealing.

The problem with Shierak Qiya is that Targaryen already has a lot of cards you want to play that either can’t be set up, or require you to kneel your house-card (or both). Triggering this over the location that gives you a single extra power will be worth it most of the time, but shutting out a Funeral Pyre for the round may make you pause for thought, and needing to cut a copy of Fire and Blood or Dracarys! from your deck looks like a step too far to take.

 

Tyrell

Ser Colen of Greenpools feels like a man who got lost on his way to us – in the first half of the Westeros cycle, a 2-cost Knight with an ability looked like a great deal, and I had a lot of fun playing a Tyrell/Wolf deck in which he would have felt right at home.

Then came First Snow of Winter, a card which hit Tyrell hard. This guy is certainly good, but I just don’t see a need for another cheap Knight in this house. Maybe once First Snow has fallen off the radar a bit more, this guy will be worth revisiting.

Bitterbridge Encampment is another odd card – one that allows you and your opponent to each put a character into play. Obviously this is only going to work for you, if you can ensure that you get the better deal – emptying your opponent’s hand, or making sure you get something brilliant yourself. There are probably ways to build specifically for this, but for me, it doesn’t feel worth the risk, and there are too many times when this would be a dead draw.

No Faction

There are also 4 neutral cards in this pack: a character, an event, and 2 plots. The event is The Dragon’s Tail, a zero-cost event that draws 2 cards for you and an opponent – FFG made a big deal of this card in the release article, but I can’t imagine ever running it outside of Melee.

Pyromancers The character is more interesting: a 5-cost neutral, with only 2-strength and an intrigue icon, this initially looks pretty hard to stomach. However, as befits a Pyromancer, the ability is what defines this card, and it is explosive – Kneel this and discard a power to discard a non-limited location from play. Being able to use this on The Wall, or Ghaston Grey, on the Red Keep, or the Iron Throne – even one of those pesky Greyjoy Warships looks great value for money – with those out of the way, you’ll soon recoup the power. Note that it is a dominance action though, so it has to survive the round – perhaps tricky if you were going to target something like Plaza of Punishment.

The plots both provide potentially powerful effects, but they are double-edged swords. Rains of AutumnRains of Autumn blanks the gold bonus on characters and locations, whilst Varys’s Riddle copies the “When Revealed” of another plot card. The stats on the Riddle are very good, and when these go well, they could be great – preventing your opponent from playing that crucial card, or copying a brilliant effect. Overall though, both feel too much like a risk to me.

Conclusion

So that’s it for the first pack of the War of the Five Kings Cycle. Some factions definitely do better out of this pack than others (I feel like Greyjoy and Tyrell got the worst deal), but overall, plenty of interesting cards – one or two got a run-out at our monthly game-night kit event on the weekend, and I look forward to seeing the rest in some decks soon.

 

Zombicide Black Plague: NPC Box 1 Review

 

The Good, The Bad, and the Notorious

I’ve talked a few times here and there about Zombicide, including the series of slightly dark photos I posted the other week, but I’ve not yet done a proper review of any of the components. As mentioned before, the base game was reviewed on the GamesQuest site, and you can read that here. I decided it was time to change that, so from now on, I’m going to be posting my thoughts on the various new expansions that I pick up.

The first of the retail expansions* (not technically at retail yet) to hit my gaming table were the NPCs – with an obvious nod to the Non-Player Characters of Fantasy RPGs, these are Notorious Plagued Characters – a slightly more glamorous brand of zombie, with some new twists to offer the game. Let’s dive in, and see what we get in the box.

Unboxing

NPC Box 1 contains 20 Zombie figures (4 each of 5 different sculpts), 3 Vault Weapons, and the spawn cards needed to get those Zombies in to play. (There are also lots of duplicate cards in other languages, which are probably of limited use.)

Cards

VaultsSlightly unusually, I’m going to start with the Vault Cards. I loved Zombicide: Black Plague when I got it, and we played it to death (25 games in the first month), but the one place where it really felt limited was with the Vault Weapons. There were 2 in the game, and many scenarios place “2 random vault weapons” in the vaults – it just meant that there was no variety, and that as soon as you picked up the first one, you knew exactly what the other one was. If you found the Crossbow, you knew to send the Wizard to the other vault to get the spell.

Heavy Crossbow
Limitations aside, the ability to kill Abominations is always a bonus

For that alone, just having 5 instead of 2 is a great addition. The new cards themselves are an interesting mix: a Longbow that works at range and in Melee, a 3-damage crossbow, and a shield that works against Abominations. All potentially very useful, although with noticeable drawbacks compared to the original weapons (the shield doesn’t kill things, the crossbow is no use at point-blank range, and the Longbow is only 1 damage). Overall though, these cards seem like a great addition to the game.

Miniatures

The Miniatures themselves are a bit of a mixed bag: there were 5 different sculpts: A dwarf(?) in armour, a dancing girl, a torturer/jailer, a nurse, and a Moor (to use the Dark Ages terminology). First up, I’ll say that my pack of NPCs had some of the worst casting problems of any Zombicide minis I’ve yet received. For most of them, I had to spend a lot of time trimming with a scalpel and file, then fill with plastic putty, undercoat, and THEN go through the whole filling and filing process again. As I was going to paint the figures anyway, this added a fair amount of work, but did at least mean that I could get them to a fairly decent state – if you weren’t going to paint your miniatures, then these are some of the first Zombicide figures I’ve had which were mis-cast badly enough to be noticeable/offputting whilst sat unpainted on the table.

Female ZombiesMoving from production (it could well have just been a suspect batch) to the sculpts themselves, the NPCs certainly offer something a bit different from the standard walkers. There are two female walkers in the base game, both wearing fairly generic full-length dresses. The NPC box has a Nurse, who is carrying a good amount of kit for a zombie, and a Dancing Girl who (as you might expect) is wearing very little indeed.

JailerOf the three male figures, the Jailer/Torturer character is the most interesting, with a slightly garish expression, it does a good job of suggesting that he may not have been entirely sane when he was alive.

The Moor and the Armoured figure round off the set – with the Lore of Zombicide: Black Plague being a little hazy, I can’t say with certainty whether the chap in armour is meant to be a dwarf, or just a bit short and stout.

Overall, these were a fun set to paint, and being character figures, a good chance to introduce a bit more colour into the Zombie populace.

Gameplay

The official way to use the NPCs is to add their spawn cards to the deck, and spawn them as their own separate kind of zombie. When spawning an NPC, you select a figure at random from the reserve and, instead of simply returning it once killed, your survivor can discard 5 different NPC zombies, to choose a Vault Weapon from the box.

Arm-MoorAside from the special rules on spawning and collecting, NPCs function like Walkers, and if you ever run out of NPCs, you simply use walkers instead (although your survivor can discard NPCs at any time, back to the supply).

Playing with NPCs as written definitely makes the game easier. For one thing, you can have 5 Vault Weapons amongst your party, rather than the maximum of 2 which you tend to get from scenarios. The addition of the extra spawn cards for what are, functionally, more walkers also reduces the frequency with which you run into the nastier beasts of the spawn deck.

Whether you regard this as a good or a bad change is, obviously, rather more subjective. With all the additional Zombies we now have access to – Wolfz, and Zombies bosses at least, Crowz and Deadeyes if you’re a Kickstarter backer [or reading this a few months in the future], I think that having something which can make the game easier is a good corrective, and brings some of the harder scenarios back to a sensible point where they are playable.

Variants

It has been commented many times on places like Board Game Geek, that Zombicide feels a lot like a sandbox game: you can add, or choose not to add, any number of different expansion elements, and if those aren’t to your liking, you can make up your own rules. The simplest thing to do with NPCs, would be to use them as standard walkers (with or without the additional spawn cards), to add more visual variety, but the scope is almost endless, and I’ve seen suggestions for arming the NPCs with the Vault Weapon you would get from killing them, triggering all manner of additional effects, and no doubt a few more possibilities that I’ve just forgotten.

Bishops
I thought all-purple might get dull, so I promoted one to Cardinal

Whilst the rules for NPCs (official ones) are fixed, the distribution of zombies is rather more variable. NPC Box 1 contains 4 figures in each of 5 different poses. Personally, I also splashed out on 3 extra poses from a Kickstarter Backer, via Ebay, and there is another box out there, NPC 2, which adds a further 20 zombies in 5 more poses, and another 3 Vault cards.

I think the way we had things set up at the start, did make it too easy to get vault cards – I’d only painted 2 figures in each of the 8 poses, so the odds of getting duplicates were greatly lowered, and our survivors rapidly acquired the full set needed to cash in for a vault weapon. Moving back to 4 figures in each pose, normalises things slightly. There are still people who think that anywhere above the 5 poses you get in a single box makes it too easy to get a set, but it depends slightly on how you do the randomising: a fear of chipping painted miniatures seems to rule out “chuck them in a bag and grab one at random” so again, the suggested different ways of selecting seem to be endless. Personally, I just assigned a number from 1-8 to the different sculpts, then rolled a D8 to see which one I needed (re-rolling if all the miniatures of that number were already in play).

Snow WhiteThe Kickstarter NPCs certainly aren’t necessary from a gameplay perspective, but I think they are the best sculpts – the guy holding his own head is entertaining, the Bishop/Cardinal is a really characterful sculpt, and the woman who looks suspiciously like Disney’s Snow White is just plain hilarious (I have plans for that sculpt, leading mobs of dwarves when Massive Darkness arrives next year).

Verdict

At the moment, the only way to get your hands on NPC Box 1 (or 2) is to have been a Kickstarter backer, or to find someone else who was, and is selling. These will be on retail release at some point in the future, and as soon as they are, I think they are an essential purchase, probably the first one I’d get. The variety from extra vault cards alone adds so much replay-ability to the base game, and the option to ease the game’s difficulty allows you to really go to town with all those monster abominations.